Finding an Apartment …and the Columbo Technique

by | Feb 17, 2022 | Global | 1 comment

If you’re looking for the right place to rent overseas, I’ve had some experience with that. Been there, done that. And I have a few suggestions to help you with your search.

But the Columbo Technique? What the heck is that? Good question, but let’s save that for last because it’s not going to work in all cases.

First, I’ll give you the nuts and bolts of my experience of looking for the right apartment in both Mexico and Ecuador. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Get an agent looking for appropriate places for you.

Better yet, enlist more than one agent beating the bushes because there is no MLS here, no central database that an agent can search and see every apartment and house available for sale or rent.

But don’t worry about paying a commission because the landlord pays the agent, not the renter.

Walk around and look for signs in apartment windows.

Typically they will state “Arriendo Departamento.” Burning a little shoe leather is a good way to get to know the city and get a feel for which areas you like.

Walk into buildings and ask at the desk about apartments for rent. If there is one, you can negotiate with the owner directly. You might get a better rental price because you’ve cut out the middleman – the agent – and the owner won’t have to pay a commission.

Look at ads for apartments and on the various websites. Some examples of these are the Gringo Post, Plusvalia, and OLX.

Hunting for an apartment
Hunting for an apartment

And finally, the bonus Columbo Technique that might help you find the right apartment and avoid the wrong one. Here’s how it could help you:

Do you remember the crime show Columbo, starring Peter Falk? Detective Columbo employed an effective interview technique where he would thank the (often reluctant) witness for answering his questions, close his notebook, and start to leave.

He’d have one foot out the door when he would return to ask “just one last question” – the one he wanted to ask all along. The witness would answer him truthfully because they had let down their defenses. Columbo caught them off-guard.

I didn’t solve any crimes by borrowing Columbo’s interviewing technique, but I probably saved myself from renting the wrong apartment. I was shown a nicely furnished place by the owner and the current tenant. The landlord didn’t have to say much because the expat tenant – who had already had more than one beer despite the mid-afternoon hour – did most of the show and tell.

He extolled the matchless qualities of the imported washer and dryer. He proclaimed how great the landlord was, and how convenient the apartment’s location. And how quiet the place was.

What would Columbo do?"
What would Columbo do?

I liked the apartment — the furniture was comfortable and modern, and the owner did seem like an agreeable person.
After the owner and I had declined the tenant’s offer of a beer for the third time, we made our exit. I told the owner I was very interested and would give him my decision very soon.

The next day I decided to employ the Columbo technique and I returned to the apartment to ask the tenant “just one last question.” He welcomed me in and offered me a coffee – no beer this time. I said I had noticed a parqueadero (parking lot) down below the apartment and wondered if it was noisy.

He made me promise not to say anything to the owner before confessing that car alarms went off all day in the parking lot. Not only that, he said, but there was a karaoke bar nearby where loud music was sung badly until the wee hours of the morning.

He divulged a few more bothersome noises, but the deal-breaker came when he said that even if he wasn’t leaving town, he wouldn’t renew his lease.

Red flag! I appreciated this expat telling me about the situation because I had been 90 percent sure I was going to take the apartment.

The discovery of the noise situation changed my mind, but maybe your return for “just one last question” would reveal another deal-breaker.

I’m sure that most landlords in Ecuador and Mexico are honest and forthcoming. But it’s only natural that they would want to show their property in the best light possible. Their goal is to rent their house or apartment; your chore is to uncover anything that would prevent that living situation from being the right place for you.

All the helpful strategies one through five will help you do that. But as an added method of discovery, use the Columbo Technique and ask “just one last question.”

Good luck with finding a great place to rent – they’re here! Let us know if you have some of your own strategies you have employed.